Facts and Figures
Mar 21st - Apr 15th 2011
Start Mileage - 36,295
Miles - 61
Tulcan (Hotel Alejandro) - Pasto (Koala Inn)
Only about 20KM’s to the border into the most feared country in South America. Hoped to fill up with cheap petrol before leaving Ecuador but the couple of fuel stations we passed were all shut up, maybe trying to stop the Colombians from coming over and saving a few pennies!! Leaving Ecuador was an easy enough procedure apart from a bit of a problem at customs. We couldn’t see the engine number due to all the crap that had accumulated so we were let off with that one then, because we entered the country at the backwater crossing of Balsa we weren’t on the computer system, just a small hold up and we are on our way. Across the bridge and we are at the very modern border post into the land of corruption, drug barons and murderers!!!
The friendliest cops and customs officers we have encountered yet. Finger prints scanned, passports stamped then the whole building came out to “inspect” the bike. We must have been there an hour chatting with them all. They assured us that Colombia isn’t the country that is reported in the news and they were glad we had come to visit. We finished chatting and got on the bike, just as the rain started heaving down, still rainy season! Not far up the road we saw a couple of bikes parked up so stopped for a chat, they were a couple from Idaho in the U.S. heading south. They said they had been in Colombia for a month or two and enjoyed it having no problems at all but complained they hadn’t seen any other bikers. After leaving them we must have passed at least a half dozen loaded bikes going in the opposite direction.
Riding on really good roads we notice that the Andes are starting to dwindle, not as high or as rocky.
We pulled into the plaza at Pasto to locate a coffee before hunting down accommodation and again were surrounded by the locals. Coffee located we ask the crowd if there is a good hotel nearby, a young lad on a pushbike takes Lorraine on the hunt and leaves me to the usual barrage of questions. Lorraine returns not too long after with a result, just down the road a bit and cheap, no parking though but there are parquedero’s aplenty nearby, as long as we don’t get the same hassle we had in Cuenca. After we had offloaded the bike the lad on the pushbike took me on a tour of the town trying to find a good place to park the bike up. Eventually found one that didn’t seem to be charging Gringo prices and was secure enough but it was about 4 blocks from the hostel. There is a flash hotel next to the hostel with underground parking and a concierge on the door so I thought I might try and get parking there if I slip the guy a few Peso’s, he wasn’t having any of it, no corruption here!
I asked the hostel owner if there was any parking closer, he told me of one behind the hostel but not that easy to get to as there are a few one way streets to get to it. I found it, it was closed. Negotiating the way back to the hostel I spotted another parquedero just off the street the hostel was on, around the one way streets again and it was open, 24hr security and cheap, it'll do.
We have been researching the crossing of the Darien gap between Colombia and Panama and decided to sail from Cartagena rather than backtrack and fly out of Bogota. The recommended sailing options we could find are either the “Stahlraat” or “Fritz the Cat” though there are a few other private boats that ply their trade with the backpacking fraternity out of Cartagena. The Stahlraat is on a Caribbean cruise for the next few months so that is out. Emails sent to Fritz and also to the yacht club and Casa Vienna, a hostel in Cartagena that is supposed to be helpful in finding sea crossings.
Pasto (Koala Inn)
22/03/2011 - We had a reply from Casa Vienna, they have no details of any sailings in the next few weeks or of any skippers that are around at the moment but will keep us informed, nothing from the yacht club and then an email from Fritz, he will be sailing from Cartagena on the 16th of April, a little bit early for us but his next sailing isn’t until the end of May beginning of June. Do we leave it and take the chance we can find a sailing once we get to Cartagena or just bite the bullet and book with Fritz? We bit the bullet.
There seems to be a pattern with the weather here, nice and sunny in the mornings then heaving it down for the rest of the day, not fun trudging around in the wet.
Went to the bank to get money to pay for food and the hostel, card not working … the staff in the bank say they are having problems with the ATM’s at the moment so we tried every other bank in town and got the same result and the same answer from the bank staff .. Problem with ATM should be sorted later.
23/03/2011 - Packed up for the off today then into town to the bank again and pick the bike up on the way back. Red hot again this morning and sweating in the bike gear. Guess what, cards still aren’t working and it’s not the ATM’s as other people are getting cash out … bloody bank, we told them we were coming here. Back to the hostel to call the bank and get cards sorted …. again. Apparently we had mentioned 4 countries that we were going to and the bank only allows 3 at a time so they decided to cut off the first one we mentioned resulting in the cards being blocked as soon as we tried to use them!!!! Should be ok in a couple of hours, which means we are staying here another night, that’s if the guy lets us without coughing up the beer tokens first!
Unpack, get out of the bike gear and wait. Cards working again in the afternoon so we now have money. Into town to look for maps and then plan a route for the couple of weeks we have here in Colombia.
Start Mileage - 36,356
Pasto (Koalla Inn) - Popayan (Pass Hotel)
A nice sunny day as we got on the road at 09:45 but soon started to cloud over as we hit the mountains. One or two heavy showers but they didn’t last too long. A nice enough ride even if it was on the Pan American. It is starting to get a lot hotter and the scenery, the music and people are getting a bit more Caribbean. We got caught at one coffee stop by the local kids that had just been released from school and all wanting to sit on the bike. On the road again and we arrived at Popayan just as the rain started. Headed for a hostel we had been told about but it was expensive and had no parking, the owner did tell us about another cheaper place around the corner.
We managed to knock down the price of the other hostel if we stayed two nights, not bad new and clean with secure parking. Then the rain really came down! Not going out in this so got my head down for a little kip, Lorraine waited till it calmed down a bit then went in search of beer, fags and somewhere to eat. Trying to get a smoke is a bit of a palaver with having to get the staff to unlock two doors, stand on the street in the rain and then get their attention again to unlock the doors to get back in!!! Maybe we won’t stay two nights.
Had a crappy cena at the restaurant next door then watched telly until the storm knocked out the reception.
Start Mileage - 36,511
Miles - 246
Popayan (Pass Hotel) - Armenia (Hostal La Mia, A Truck stop with a hotel attached)
We had planned going to see the ruins at San Augustin and to meet up with another biker we had been in contact with on Horizons. The road was supposed to be a bit difficult especially if it has been raining … and there has been a lot of rain recently. We had about 30KM’s of asphalt before it ran out and then we were on the dirt, not too bad to start with but a few muddy patches along the way. The road started to get worse and the muddy patches were turning into mud holes, but we were still going along upright and not sliding around too much. Then the moaning started in the head set, Lorraine whinging that she didn’t like the road and wanted to turn around, I thought she would have been used to a bit of hard riding by now so told her no, we weren’t turning around. Eventually the whinging got too much and I copped with her, it was only 100KM’s and we had done about 30 already. In a mood I turned around and hoofed it back down the road we had just come up, going faster than we did coming up just to prove that we could do it but she just kept on moaning. A very quiet ride after that!
After we had been to San Augustin we were going to head for a bikers hostel in Cali, seeing as we are now not going to San Augustin I just headed for the Pan Am and booted it through the rain towards Cali. Arrived at Cali around 15:00 and we were in the middle of a storm again so pulled over at a coffee shop. Can’t be arsed riding around the city looking for the hostel so we just plowed on out up the Pan Am towards Bogota trying to lose the rain. It dried up a bit and we arrived at Armenia just as the light was going around 18:30, tried a few hotels but they were charging by the hour so gave them a miss. Eventually found a truck stop on the outskirts of town that had an hotel attached so pulled in.
We’re not talking!!!!
Start Mileage - 36,757
Miles - 201
Armenia (Hostal La Mia) - Bogota (Hotel Bogota Norte)
Trucks coming and going all night and a hairy arsed trucker next door rattling the windows with his snoring didn’t help the mood!!
On the road at 11:00 in the drizzle and start the climb up through the mountains. A very good twisty road spoilt by the hundreds of trucks that hindered the progress and we couldn't get a lick on. Very hard to pass the trucks and beind stuck in the clouds of black diesel smoke wasn’t nice. I found the easiest way to pass was to wait for a sharp right hander, give a blast on the horn and undertake while the truck is wide out onto the left side of the road, I think after the first few undertakes the word had been passed over the trucks CB radio’s that there was a crazy Gringo trying to kill himself and we made every pass without incident, most of the trucks giving us a friendly toot on the horn …. I think that’s what they were doing!!!
At one point we followed one truck with an extra load, a young lad on a pushbike had grabbed on and was getting a free tow up the mountain, beats pedalling I suppose. After cresting the top of the pass it looked like we were riding into yet more fog but it turned out to be the wet roads steaming in the heat, nice to be back in the warm again. A nice warm, clear ride down with not too many trucks to contend with.
Just before Ibague we were pulled over by the law .. more corruption!! No, we were stopped to be given instruction on going through the new II Centenary tunnel, an 8.5 KM hole in the mountain which will save somewhere in the region of US$40M a year in truck operating costs and fuel consumption, it also cuts the journey time to cross the pass from the previous 1HR 28Mins to just 10Mins.
Got stuck in the Moto lane at a toll booth today, this one was like all the rest, narrow, but it also had concrete sides which got higher as we went through, eventually the boxes grounded out and we came to a stop. Have to lose some weight so told Lorraine to get off which lifted the suspension enough to clear the sides!!!!
We stopped about 100KM’s outside of Bogota at a nice looking Hospedaje but as it was still early I decided to run on in to Bogota, mistake!!!! We arrived after dark, not good thing, and trying to find somewhere to stay wasn’t easy. We rode around and around for ages and didn’t see a one. When we started to recognise places that we had passed before we thought it might be a good idea to stop at one of the many Police kiosks that are dotted around the city and ask for directions. The cops told us to wait and they would get someone to escort us, nice of them. 20 minutes later a cop van turned up and we were told to follow them … great fun, we pulled away at speed into the heavy traffic with the blues and two’s going and had a hard job keeping up with them. Red lights, junctions - no problem, straight through. We stopped at another cop kiosk and were handed over to another guy, a bike cop, might have a bit of trouble keeping up with this one! Luckily he was a bit slower than the guys in the van. We pulled up at a hotel, looks a bit flash, I guess they think because we’re Gringo’s we want pricey, wrong, we want cheap. We checked it out anyway, it was very flash and too expensive, the cop was waiting outside to make sure everything was ok so when we said it was too pricey we moved onto another, full, and the next was full too. The fourth hotel was still a bit more than we were expecting to pay but time was getting on so we bit the bullet and moved in.
Out for Chiffa then back to the hotel to try and find other accom.
Start Mileage - 36,958
Miles - 28
Bogota (Hotel Bogota Norte) - Bogota (Bogota B&B Hostal)
We found another hostal on the internet, not too far from here and got reception to give them a call to see if they had room, they did. After breakfast we packed up and got directions from reception for the 7KM’s ride to Bogota B&B. After 20KM’s we realised we weren’t going in the right direction. Thought we should head back the way we came so took the next turning and got completely lost in the one way system, every turn seemed to take us further away. Stopped and asked a cop on traffic duty if he knew where we wanted to get to, after conflabbing with his colleagues and coming up with no solution we were stumped … the GPS was routing us there but the wrong way down one way roads. Just then a couple turned up on a scooter to see if they could help, they knew the place and showed us the way, we were miles out! Next problem, the address we had was correct but it was an empty building so the lad that got us here called the number we had, the address we are at shut down two weeks ago and they moved around the corner to a bigger place. We thanked the lad and gave him some cash for his petrol as he was supposed to be meeting someone at the other end of town not showing lost Gringo’s about!!
Good secure parking, internet and kitchen facilities, the only thing the hostel didn’t have was private rooms, just dorms, but as we were the only ones there it wasn’t a problem.
28/03 - 01/04/2011
Bogota (Bogota B&B)
28/03/2011 - We plan on staying here a few days to get the bike serviced, do a bit of sightseeing and meet up with some friends from Facebook and Horizons.
Got the bike booked in for service, drop it off tomorrow, should be ready for Friday.
In the afternoon we took the Transmilenio (Bogota’s efficient, clean and cheap public transport) into the Historic Candeleria district and the old buildings and streets around Plaza Bolivar. One of the old buildings is now the Botero Museo and used to be Colombia's national mint until the mint in Popayan took over. An interesting museum, and free entry!! we spent an hour and a half there. With feet throbbing after walking around all afternoon we got the Transmilenio back to the hostel.
29/03/2011 - The plan today is to drop the bike off at BMW then take the bus to the Salt Cathedral at Zipaqueria and meet up with Mauricio, a biker from Horizons, in the evening for a beer or two. The plan soon went to ratshit, we had the address for BMW, the directions from Google maps and it was plumbed into the GPS. Within five minutes of being on the road we hit roadworks and a deviation which brought us nowhere near where we wanted to be, no problem, a left and a left should get us back … wrong! Bogota’s one way system is a pain to get to grips with. Again we ended up miles away from where we wanted to be, every time we tried to make a logical turn we ended up going further away. Two hours later we got to BMW .. 7KM’s from the hostel .. we rode about 45KM’s. After getting the bike booked in and chatting with the staff it’s to late for the trip to Zipaqueria now, and the guys in the workshop say that the bike will be ready tomorrow night not Friday. BMW booked and paid for the taxi to take us back to the hostel.
Had a good night out with Mauricio at the Irish bar in town.
30/03/2011 - Got the bus out to Zipaqueria to visit the Salt Cathedral. The first one was built in the 1930’s as a place for the miners daily prayers before starting work and grew from there until the new cathedral was built 200 ft below. The new cathedral was started in 1995 and features carvings depicting the 14 stations of the cross that had been carved in the Halite walls of previous mining operations.
Not too bad a day out. Grabbed a bit of lunch in town before getting the Transmilenio back. Rush hour and quite a different experience, the busses are packed to the gunnels and it’s every man for himself. Spectacles, Testicles, Wallet and Watch … then shove your way on. Squeezed our way off and went to meet up with Estoban, a guy I know from Facebook. We met up in the Irish bar again. Another good night, we only just made the last bus back to the hostel, well we were there before the bus left at 23:30 but the ticket office closed at 23:00. even though there was someone in the office they wouldn’t sell us a ticket and said we would have to get a taxi back, taxi = expensive! Lucky for us there was a local who heard us at the ticket office and let us through the barriers on his pass. Way past midnight when we get back to the hostel.
31/03/2011 - We took the Transmilenio to the nearest stop to BMW, then had a two mile hike. The bike isn’t quite ready so we hung around for a while eventually getting the bike back at 15:30. the “EASY” ride back wasn’t … should have taken us 10 minutes but once again the one way system beat us and we got completely lost … 3 hours to do a couple of KM’s!!!!!
01/04/2011 - Spent today cleaning, repacking the bike and joined the “Sticker Brigade”, putting all the acquired country stickers we have onto the panniers, looks good! While we were stickering up the owner of the hostel noticed we didn’t have a Colombia sticker, when we told him we couldn't find any he said he knew where to get them and would bring us one in the morning.
Maps for GPS are ready to download at last.
Start Mileage - 37,042
Miles - 99
Bogota (Bogota B&B) - Honda (Hostal Los Puentas)
Colombia stickers turned up as promised, no charge, guess that was our “Discount” for staying here 5 days! Packed up and paid up. The new GPS maps got us out of the city without any problem. Slow going though in the heavy traffic but the buildings of the city soon thinned out and we were back into countryside. Nice but hot ride through the coffee growing area but it’s the wrong time of year so no activity in the fields and even no coffee at one of the stops.
With the traffic trying to get out of Bogota and all the trucks on the road our planned stop at Manizales went out the window so we found a small hostal in Honda and called it a day. Sweating and stinking from the heat we were looking forward to the promised hot shower in the hostal .. no hot water and even in the heat the water is ice cold .. Stayed stinking!
GPS Route Tracker finally packed in .. There will be no more recorded tracks from now on.
Start Mileage - 37,147
Miles - 203
Honda (Hostal Los Puentas) - Medellin (Hostal Saman)
Nothing much to Honda so just an overnight stop, the hostal was a bit of a dive in the light of day, uncomfortable beds and the fan wasn't enough in the heat. We’re back on the road at 10:00 a hot start but got cold as we climbed into the mountains towards Parque Nacional Los Nevadas where there are more Volcanoes. Riding through the clouds, the cold and then thunder and lightning and rain so heavy I couldn't see we pulled in to wait for it to stop. The rain let up a bit but didn’t stop, no choice but to plow on through it. Loraine geared up but I was soaked already so didn’t bother and we are coming down from the mountains now so it’s warming up a bit.
Stopped by the cops a few times along the way, one stop wanted to see insurance .. Ooops don't have any. Lots of “no intiendo” and handing him the customs paperwork every time he asked for our “Seguro”, he either was satisfied that was our insurance or more likely he got hacked off with the stupid Gringo’s and let us go!!!!
We arrived at the outskirts of Medellin, another big city and no idea where we are going to stay just as it is starting to get dark so stopped to check our otions. A local biker pulled over before we got the books out to see what was available and escorted us to a hostal. Only dorms and a bit expensive so Lorraine sets out to check out a few others. Found a couple but all expensive so gave up and went back to the first. Got the parking for free which made a big difference to the price so might stay two nights, and it is an Hola Hostal so we 10% discount as well with our card.
Medellin (Hostal Saman)
Plan for today is to take the metro to the cable car in Medellin for views over the city, then Lorraine wants to visit the Botanical Gardens, the oldest in South America apparently. Finally visit the grave and museum of Pablo Escobar the infamous Colombian Drug Baron killed by the authorities in 1993.
We had a 10 block walk from the hostal to the Metro station so it came in handy when I noticed a hairdressers on the way doing a special, handy to rest the feet , get out of the heat and I badly needed a crop!
Head a bit lighter we catch the Metro into town. The cable car is included in the Metro ticket price so we just need to get to the right station, walk up a few steps and join the queue for the cable car … our lucky day, absolutely no queue. Ah .. There is a reason there is no queue, the car is closed for the next two weeks for maintenance! Guess we’ll give it a miss then. Back on the Metro and off to the gardens. We can see people inside but can’t find the entrance, the main doors are shut but we are told to enter through the coffee shop, might as well have a coffee before we go in. Still can’t find the ticket office to the gardens so we follow a few people who are going through a barrier only to be stopped by security .. The gardens are closed for a few days for fumigation … not our day, hot and bothered we decided to call it quits and skip Escobar and head back to the hostal via the supermarket for supplies and the aircon.
Start Mileage - 37,350
Miles - 202
Medellin (Hostal Saman) - Guayabito (Hotel El Guayabito)
Uneventful but good ride back towards Bogota, had to make sure we got the right road to Bucaramanga or we would end up in Bogota again.
Stopped by the law again but they seemed happy with the paperwork and again accepted the customs papers as insurance.
The heat was getting to us so we hauled up early at about 16:00 in a hotel attached to a fuel station.
Start Mileage - 37,552
Miles - 216
Guayabito (Hotel El Guayabito) - Cunimani (Hotel Madrigal)
Fuelled up before we loaded up, no need to hunt fuel as the hotel is in a fuel station. We had two options, either head for Santa Marta via Bucaramanga, which isn't far and probably too early to stop or cut the corner and miss Bucaramanga. We chose to cut the corner, had enough of big cities lately.
Mostly a dairy farming area with lots of cows and evidence of them in little patches all over the road. Saw lots of parrots and other coloured birds and butterflies, a couple of monkeys and lots of lizards. We stopped for a coffee at a nice looking restaurant but they didn’t have any nor any food, can’t believe it is so hard to find coffee in Colombia!
Start Mileage - 37.768
Miles - 163
Cunimani (Hotel Madrigal) - Santa Marta (Hospedaje Casa Blanca)
A little bit of country road today but more or less a blast through biggish towns to get to Santa Marta.
Riding around town looking for somewhere to stop we were flagged down by a guy at the side of the road who worked in a hostel that we hadn't seen, right where he stopped us. No parking but we can park inside if we can get the bike up 3 steps at an angle, through the door, through another door and down another two steps. Stripped the bike off, found some planks and got the bike inside and parked in the lounge!
Santa Marta (Hospedaje Casa Blanca)
08/04/2011 - Nice place to stay, people are really friendly, it’s quiet and the town is just around the corner.
It is a 6 day hike or an expensive helicopter flight to get to “The Lost City” so we decided to go to the mock up and museum here in town. Very hot again. Out for dinner later at night when it had cooled down a bit - 29 Deg. C
09/04/2011 - We are staying a couple of days with not a lot to do. Updated website as we are 4 months behind (At time of writing this we are now 10 months behind!!!)
Skyped Skip and Rachel, they are holed up in an apartment in Mexico for a month, not having a good time!
10/04/2011 - Another munging day. Lots of cops at the hostel across the road, drugs bust???? Lots of people on the streets offering small packets of dubious substances. There is a street market set up on the quay for the American cruise liners that come in for the weekend, mostly selling tat.
More skype and doctoring up an insurance document in photoshop for Central America.
Start Mileage - 37,391
Miles - 142
Santa Marta (Hospedaje Casa Blanca) - Cartagena (Hostel Marlin)
A hot day again though it should be a cooler ride as we are following the coast to Cartagena. Bike manoeuvred through doors and up and down steps we are on the street in the full heat to load up and then a big farewell from Luz and her family.
Nice ride along the coast and then we hit the traffic at Cartagena, nightmare, we couldn't move through the traffic so had to grin and bear it in the heat and fumes with the bike overheating. We had the area for most of the hostels in the GPS so got there only after a couple of mistakes and having to go the wrong way down one way streets. Lorraine went off in search of accommodation while I got propositioned by drug dealers and whores!! Lorraine came back with a few hostels but no parking and using parquedero’s puts the price up. One last plae to check and it’s a result, cheap and we can park inside. Offload the bike outside and up the steps into reception, wind our way past tables to go down the corridor to park in the courtyard where the guy usually puts bikes. The handlebars just fit and with a bit of wobbling past room doors we get half way down the corridor before it narrows and we don’t fit any more. Back pedal and park in reception.
Sent Fritz an email to let him know we were in Cartagena as we hadn't heard from him since booking the sailing.
Out for dinner then back to the hostal to see if Fritz had responded, he had. The sailing date has been brought forward to the 14th and he needs our passports urgently. He will be around tomorrow at 18:00 to pick up passports and the cash for the crossing. Need to get busy with the cash tomorrow.
Cartagena (Hostel Marlin) - At sea (Fritz the Cat)
12/04/2011 - Day spent trudging around banks trying to get money, ATM’s only give Peso’s so we will be losing money changing Sterling to Peso to Dollar, tried a few banks to see if we could get Dollars out on our card but too difficult and expensive a process. We managed to get half the cost of the crossing before the cards maxed out, hope Fritz is ok with that.
Fritz arrived and another guy also turned up, Jason from Canada riding a DragStar who is also sailing with Fritz. Passports and the bit of cash we had handed over, Fritz was ok with us getting the rest of the cash tomorrow. Fritz disappeared and we arranged to ride to the loading point with Jason as he knew where it was. Arrival in Panama is now the 18th, 5 days and 4 nights not the 6 and 5 we had been told previously, also a bit dubious about the way the bike is being “cleared” from Colombia, but we’re not the first so will have to go with it.
13/04/2011 - Into town for sightseeing and to get the rest of the cash. Stocked up on tobacco and booze for the crossing.
14/04/2011 - Time to say goodbye to South America, we had a blast and hope the next section is going to be as good.
Bike packed, meet Jason at 11:00 and ride out to the loading point, a small wooden jetty at the side of the road .. dodgier and dodgier!! 30 minutes later a catamaran pulled alongside, it was Fritz. We met the rest of the passengers and the crew. There were two other bikes on board, a French registered Africa Twin ridden by Stephane, a Spanish registered 1800 Goldwing ridden by Juan, 16 backpackers and 4 crew, it’s going to be cramped. Ours and Jason’s bikes were loaded and tied down and we sailed at about 14:00.
Got chatting with a few of our fellow passengers and it seems we were lucky being allocated a cabin, not everyone had a bed to sleep in! there are two double cabins and two cabins with three bunks, a double bunk in the main cabin and a single in the porthole above it!! Everyone else had to sleep on deck!!!!
Lunch was served about half an hour after sailing, with all the boasts of Fritz having the best food afloat, it was a bit disappointing, maybe it will get better.
15/04/2011 - At Sea … Yesterday and today are spent in open water, the crew, Fritz, Roly, Jose and Fritz’s girlfriend, took watches last night but we are expected to keep an hour watch each during the night tonight. A lot of people were hurling lumps yesterday, don’t know how they will cope with keeping watch through the night. I did the 23:00 to midnight and Lorraine chose the 05:00 - 06:00.
Food not getting any better. Not much to do but stay in the shade, should have brought more alcohol.
Reached the first Island stop at 21:00 and anchored off until the morning.